Broncos' most frustrating draft class may have been its best

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In February, the Denver Broncos became one of only four franchises in NFL in history to have appeared in eight Super Bowls, and the 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 was the franchise's third win in the title game.

That roster was filled with the team's own draft picks. In all, 27 players on the 53-man roster for Super Bowl 50 were either Broncos' draft picks or had been signed by the team as undrafted rookies.

And whenever he's asked about what the key to sustainability is in the volatile NFL world, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has consistently said, "We have to stack those draft classes."

So, in the Super Bowl era, for a team that has made a title-game appearance on average once every 6.25 seasons, there are several candidates for the franchise's best draft class.

There was 1975 when Louis Wright, Rick Upchurch, Rubin Carter and Steve Foley were among the team's mammoth 18-player class. There was 1973 when Otis Armstrong, Barney Chavous and Tom Jackson were selected.

And for now-and-later impact there was the 1983 draft when the Broncos selected Ring of Famer Karl Mecklenburg in the 12th round, and their future coach, Gary Kubiak, in the eighth round just before they made a trade that, you know, changed the course of the franchise and brought Elway to Denver.

There was also Elway's first draft, as the team's top decision-maker, in 2011, which brought in six players who started games for a team that eventually advanced to the Super Bowl to close out the 2013 season, right after Elway made a free-agent signing that, you know, changed the course of the franchise and brought Peyton Manning to Denver.

But in the end the Broncos' best draft class, in hindsight, it might also be the most frustrating, maddening, what-might-have-been draft class. The 2006 class has combined for 12 Pro Bowl selections, and two players have been selected first-team All-Pro at least once in their careers.

It is, however, also the class that got caught in the jet wash of the one of the franchise's worst two-season runs after the Broncos fired Mike Shanahan following the 2008 season and hired Josh McDaniels in 2009 before the team fired McDaniels in 2010. Searching to put his own imprint on the team in that brief tenure McDaniels made a flurry of roster moves and three of the players from the '06 draft class -- Jay Cutler, Tony Scheffler and Brandon Marshall -- were sent on their way.

But here's a closer look at that seven-player class:

Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt, first round, 11th overall: Cutler had his only 4,000-yard passing season with Shanahan as his coach, so who knows what it would have looked like had Shanahan not been fired. Cutler is 67-67 as a starter in the regular season with seven 3,000-yard passing seasons to go with one Pro Bowl appearance. He has played in only two postseason games, and none since 2010.

Tony Scheffler, TE, Western Michigan, second round, 61st overall: Like Cutler, who was traded before the 2009 season, Scheffler got sideways with McDaniels and was no longer with Broncos after the 2009 season. He had four 40-catch seasons in an eight-year career.

Brandon Marshall, WR, Central Florida, fourth round, 119th overall: Even Marshall says he was a different person with the Broncos before he confronted and got treatment for bipolar disorder, but at the time McDaniels traded him, too. He has been a six-time Pro Bowl selection with eight career 1,000-yard seasons and tied for the league lead in touchdown catches in 2015, with 14, at age 31.

Elvis Dumervil, DE/LB, Louisville, fourth round, 126th overall: Dumvervil has been a five-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time first-team All-Pro selection and led the league in sacks in '09 with 17.

Chris Kuper, G, North Dakota, fifth round, 161st overall: Kuper, now on Adam Gase's coaching staff with the Miami Dolphins, was a mainstay of the Broncos' offensive line until a severe ankle injury led to his retirement. In all, he made 79 starts for the Broncos and was a leader on and off the field.